Give Me a Break: Parents Day Out!

I remember it well. We just had our second child, and I was struggling to find balance between a toddler and newborn. Hello, Team No Sleep. I was a walking mombie feeling overwhelmed with life. My dad calls to check on me, and asks how he can help. From China. He suggests hiring a nanny or looking into drop-off activities for the toddler; something to give me a couple hours break to focus on just one kid versus two. He would pay. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the offer. That was the moment the words, “Parents Day Out” came to mind.

Parents Day Out (PDO) is generally run by a church as an outreach ministry to families. It provides a safe and nurturing, faith-based program for early childhood development, allowing parents to have a few hours of free time a couple days a week.

Yes, it was perfect! After some online research, my husband and I toured a church where I knew two mamas who sent their kids. It had a waiting list, but a spot opened up in the class for my son’s age. And the teacher was Asian! (I’m Asian.) I took it as a sign. We signed him up to start after his 3rd birthday. And then…all the anxiety and mom guilt set in.

In my mind, this was a temporary thing. Maybe just until the baby was 6 months and sleeping through the night or on an established schedule. (Ha! Me and my lofty dreams.) But the voice of mom guilt said, “How dare you think of sending your child into someone else’s care before preschool age? You’re a stay-at-home mom! If you’re not taking care of your kids, you’re not doing your job!” And on a really bad day? “So-and-so stays home with her multiple kids and doesn’t seem to be struggling like you are.” Oh, isn’t comparison the devil?

The reality is, every family’s needs are different. Every mother’s threshold for stress is different. I was noticing that I couldn’t give the baby all my attention. I was often torn between a diaper change and snack time, a crying newborn and a toddler tantrum. PDO was the perfect way to ease my son into eventual full-time schooling, while allowing me some one-on-one time with the baby.

But I had so many questions! This is the anxiety part. Who will help him with his lunch?  How do they handle sort of potty trained? Would he make friends? Would the teacher accept all his quirks? Is it too soon to put him in a school setting? After all, once you start school, you’re pretty much in it for at least 18 years. On top of all that, I’m having to ask if there’s an emergency plan in case of a shooter. Because this is the world we live in.

He’s been in PDO for two and a half months. There was a time when I didn’t think we’d make it past week one. His first day started disastrously. So many tears, begging me not to leave, meltdown on the floor, and me having to make a quick escape. My heart broke for us both. I stood in the hallway and cried after the classroom door closed. A sweet mom peeked in to check on him for me.

When I finally made it back out to my car, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. My son and I spent just about every day for the past 3 years together. But trust me, it’s harder for us than them. An hour later, the director sent me pictures of him interacting with his classmates. He was smiling! It was a small gesture of empathy on her part, and it completely comforted me.

Nowadays, he excitedly talks about his teacher, friends, and starts looking forward to PDO the night before. It touches my heart to see how far my son has come in a short time. He has learned so much, from the story of Easter to naming the months in the year. And we’ve only had one potty accident! He was already on the toilet, though, so it doesn’t really count. (Imperfect seating form, terrible aim, and FOMO.)

The staff have been so great with him, and I know he’s in good hands there. Teachers…they’re the real MVPs! He has gained more independence, become more aware of social norms, and been introduced to a school learning environment. I know it was all worth it!

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While he’s at PDO, I’ve gotten to take a load off, run errands (fewer things in life are better than quiet trips to Target with a sleeping baby), EAT A HOT LUNCH, and bond more with the baby. Most importantly, this mama’s sanity is a little more intact these days. For that, there’s no shame in my Parents Day Out game.  In fact, we’ve already signed him up for fall. Be honest with yourself and give yourself some grace, mamas. If the going gets tough, evaluate what works for you and your family. Do not be embarrassed to ask for help in the parameters you’re comfortable with.

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